The most obvious sign of how healthy we are on the inside is what comes out of us – our poo. This is your expert-led guide to smell, texture and colour (and what that all means).
Poo isn’t something that we tend to talk about much, even – or especially – when we’re experiencing difficulties down there. But with so much focus lately on gut health, experts are clear about the fact that our excrement holds the answer to lots of our health-related issues. It’s no good being squeamish: you’ve got to get comfy with knowing what’s normal for your poo – in terms of frequency, texture and more.
“Our poo isn’t just indigestible food,” explains nutritional therapist and functional medicine practitioner Nicola Shubrook. “Up to 50% of it is actually what’s called ‘bacterial biomass’ – essentially, dead and living organisms that live in our gut. Hormones such as oestrogen are also excreted via our stools, so being alert to our poo is important for more than just digestive health.”
What are the different types of poo?
“We use the Bristol Stool Chartto classify different types of poo,” explains Anna Mapson, a registered nutritional therapist and founder of Goodness Me Nutrition. “This really helps when people are a little squeamish about describing the differences between different stools because it provides a chart with images and descriptions.”
There are seven official types of poo, ranging from type 1 – hard, pebbly-type poos that are difficult to pass – through to watery diarrhoea at type 7. For perfectionist types, the ‘perfect’ poo is a type 3-4 on the scale, so this is what to aim for.
Fascinatingly, along with the undigested food we’ve eaten, Mapson reveals that “around 30% of poo is actually dead gut bacteria – that is a lot! So, the health of our gut microbes can play an important role in how healthy your poo is.”
What does our poo type tell us about our overall health?
Our poos are, essentially, a smelly little porthole into our inner health and wellbeing. Changes to our stools can often be the first signs of something being out of balance, and it’s not just about being constipated or having diarrhoea – different types of poo can indicate a range of health issues.
“If your poo floats that can sometimes indicate you aren’t breaking down your food properly,” explains Mapson. “This might be due to a lack of digestive enzymes or not producing enough stomach acid. This might be down to genetics, chronic stress, damage to the small intestine lining, or an overgrowth of microbes in the small intestine.”
“You may notice the occasional floater, which is normal,” Shubrook notes, “but if they float all the time or are hard to flush it can be a sign you are not absorbing fats in your diet properly.”
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Hard, dry stools
“Small hard dry poos might cause constipation,” explains Mapson. “This could be due to a slow transit time. When food is sitting in the colon for a long time, more liquid will be reabsorbed out of the poo by the body, leading to dry harder poos.
“Slow transit time could be down to lack of movement such as a very sedentary lifestyle, a lack of fibre in the diet (which reduces the amount of bulk in the stool so it doesn’t trigger the urge to go) or dehydration.”
“One of the main causes of constipation is dehydration,” agrees Shubrook, “but other causes can be a lack of fibre in the diet, stress, an imbalanced microbiome (gut bacteria) or may be due to food intolerances.”
Seeing whole food in your poo
“Regularly seeing undigested food in your poo normally indicates you are not chewing your food properly,” reveals Mapson. “Slow down, sit at a table to eat your main meals and chew your food until it’s well mashed up before swallowing. It sounds basic, but this really helps with digestion and healthier stools.”
I know I’m not alone in experiencing a nervous belly. “Loose stools are often linked to stress or anxiety,” agreed Mapson. “Our stress response is our body’s way of preparing for fight or flight, and evacuating the bowels can be a part of that.”
“Causes of diarrhoea can include too much alcohol, poor diet (processed foods and sugar), stress, food intolerances or an imbalanced microbiome (gut bacteria),” agrees Shubrook.
More persistent diarrhoea can be caused by a bacterial infection, parasite or other health conditions such as coeliac disease, so it’s important to get checked out by a doctor if your excrement regularly tends to be on the watery side.
“Very smelly gas or stools could indicate a bacterial overgrowth in the gut or a food intolerance,” explains Mapson. Eggy-smelling gas or a cabbage-like smell could be linked to specific bacteria that produce hydrogen sulphide or methane gas.
What is the perfect poo?
While it’s considered medically normal to go anywhere between three times a day and three times a week, the experts agree one one thing: in an ideal world, you should be pooing every single day. “Remember that dead organisms live in our gut, so we want to make sure that we are pooing daily to prevent a build-up of bacteria and toxins in the body,” advises Shubrook.
“I like clients to work towards going once or twice a day,” agrees Mapson, “because this indicates there is a good amount of bulk coming through fromfibreand it’s not sitting too long in the colon.”
“The goal is to have a sausage or snake-shaped stool that is easy to pass,” says Shubrook. “It may be smooth or have a few cracks in the surface. If it’s shaped like rabbit pellets or a lumpy sausage, or you have to strain at all, then this is a sign you are constipated.
“On the other hand, if your stools are very soft-like blobs, mushy, watery or even explosive then this is classed as diarrhoea.”
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“Brown indicates a normal stool colour,” explains Shubrook, “while black or very dark stool may indicate bleeding. Bright red may also indicate bleeding in the gut.
“Green stools can be due to certain foods (like green leafy vegetables) but may also be due to excess bile, which is released by the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It is a digestive fluid that helps to break down fats in the diet. And yellow can indicate that fat is being poorly absorbed from your food.”
How can we achieve perfect poos?
Test your transit time
“You can test your transit time by eating either a portion (80g) of sweetcorn, beetroot or two tablespoons of white sesame seeds,” advises Mapson. “All these foods should be visible in your poo as they show up in the toilet. Note the time you eat the food and when you see it in the toilet. A good transit time is around 24-36 hours.”
Eat more fibre
“To achieve healthy regular bowel movements, eat different types of fibre, and lots of it,” advises Mapson. “We should be aiming for between 25-30g of fibre a day, and most people could eat more fruits and vegetables. Aiming for five a day is a good start.”
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Hydration is key
Ensure you stay hydrated so more liquid than necessary isn’t reabsorbed from your poo,” warns Mapson. “Increasing fibre should also be accompanied by ensuring sufficient hydration to avoid constipation.”
Fermented foods can add healthy bacteria to the gut. Think yoghurt, sauerkraut or kefir – anything ‘live’ will support gut bacteria, which help us digest our food and support the gut lining, which all contribute to a healthy poo.
What are poo red flags?
You should talk to a doctor about regular blood or mucus in your poo because this could indicate more serious conditions such as colon cancer, inflammatory bowel disease or coeliac disease.
“If your stools are black or red, you have excess blood on wiping or you have additional symptoms like stomach pain, then go to your GP as soon as possible,” advises Shubrook.
If you’re concerned about a change in your bowel habits, do see your GP to rule out anything serious.
What kind of poop should I worry about? ›
Poops that are well-formed and easy to pass (Types 3 and 4) are the ideal kinds of poop. Poops that are entirely liquid or have too much liquid (Types 5, 6 and 7) indicate diarrhea or urgency. Sometimes diarrhea is caused by temporary illness and should pass in a few days.What does abnormal poop look like? ›
excessive straining when pooping. poop that is red, black, green, yellow, or white. greasy, fatty stools.
Healthy Poop Should Sink in the Toilet
Floating stools are often an indication of high fat content, which can be a sign of malabsorption, a condition in which you can't absorb enough fat and other nutrients from the food you're ingesting, reports Mount Sinai.
Gray: May indicate a liver or gallbladder problem or be symptomatic of viral hepatitis, gallstones or alcoholic hepatitis. Yellow, greasy, foul-smelling: Excess fat in the stool, possibly due to a malabsorption disorder like celiac disease.What does the healthiest poop look like? ›
The color of your stool depends on a couple of things: your diet and how much bile is in it. Bile is a yellow-green fluid that helps digest fats. A healthy stool, then, should reflect a mixture of all the colors of the food you eat and that bile. Almost any shade of brown, or even green, is considered OK.What is a healthy poop pattern? ›
Healthy daily routines
The ideal frequency of bowel movements is 1 or 2 times per day. The goal is to have bowels completely emptied. Bowel movements should be soft and easy to pass, with no pain, straining or stool leakage. Establish a bowel routine and set aside time to go in private, at the same time every day.
When there's too much water but not enough fiber in your stool, it causes your poop to become too soft – usually, the fiber in your poop soaks up the water.What is a high quality poop? ›
Through the bag, it should feel solid—firm, but not hard. Many experts compare this ideal texture to Play Doh. Poop that's too hard could mean that your dog is dehydrated. If it's too soft, they might be dealing with a parasite or another intestinal issue.What does constipation poop look like? ›
Poop that is hard and shaped like tiny rocks or pebbles is likely just a sign of constipation. You can still be considered constipated even if you are able to pass a small amount of stool. The large intestine helps to concentrate waste by absorbing water.What should you look for when checking your poop? ›
The stool will be checked for colour, consistency, amount, shape, and the presence of mucus. The stool may be examined for hidden (occult) blood, fat, meat fibres, bile, white blood cells , and sugars called reducing substances. The pH of the stool also may be measured.
What foods cause floating stools? ›
If you eat a high-fiber diet with a lot of vegetables and fruits, you may get floating stools because digesting high-fiber foods releases more air during digestion. This leads to air or gas being trapped in the stool, making it float in the toilet bowl.Why is my poop two feet long? ›
Extremely large poops may be the outcome of eating a very large meal or the result of chronic constipation that alters your bowel habits. If you've tried increasing your physical activity and upping fiber and water intake, and your poops still fill the toilet, it's time to talk to your doctor.Why is my poop runny and chunky? ›
Common causes include from foods – especially if something was spoiled or tainted – but GI viruses, food allergies and medication side-effects can also cause them. Some chronic conditions like Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis and irritable bowel syndrome can also lead to ongoing diarrhea.What color is your poop when your colon is clean? ›
How can you tell if your colon is clean and ready for a colonoscopy? Your stool after finishing your bowel prep agent can act as a guide. Your stool should be clear, yellow, light and liquid. The presence of dark particles or thick brown or black stool means you are not ready for colonoscopy.Is peanut butter colored poop normal? ›
Stools should be brown, have a peanut-butter texture, and look like a sausage. If your stool has an abnormal color or consistency, it may be due to something you ate or an underlying medical condition in need of investigation by a healthcare provider.Why does my poop turn toilet water brown? ›
It can indicate blood in the stool and may be a more serious gastrointestinal tract issue. But stool that simply seems darker than normal may be the result of dehydration, constipation, or eating dark-colored foods or iron-rich foods or supplements.Is healthy poop hard or soft? ›
Healthy poop should always have some solid in its consistency.Should you look at your poop? ›
Go ahead and look
If you are going to take a look at what you've dropped in the bowl, then it will help if you know a few things about what is normal in the first place. You'll be inspecting your stool for color, consistency, and timing to compare with your baseline in the future.
In many cases, foul-smelling stools occur due to the foods people eat and the bacteria present in their colon. However, foul-smelling stools can also indicate a serious health problem. Diarrhea, bloating, or flatulence may occur with foul-smelling stools. These stools are often soft or runny.How to entirely empty your bowels every morning 1 minute routine? ›
- Load up on foods with fibre. ...
- Or, take a fibre supplement. ...
- Drink some coffee — preferably *hot.* ...
- Get a little exercise in. ...
- Try massaging your perineum — no, really. ...
- Try an over-the-counter laxative. ...
- Or try a prescription laxative if things get really bad.
What does light tan poop mean? ›
Stools that are pale, clay, or putty-colored may be due to problems in the biliary system. The biliary system is the drainage system of the gallbladder, liver, and pancreas. Food passes from the stomach into the small intestine.What color should a healthy stool be? ›
All shades of brown and even green are considered normal. Only rarely does stool color indicate a potentially serious intestinal condition. Stool color is generally influenced by what you eat as well as by the amount of bile — a yellow-green fluid that digests fats — in your stool.Is it normal to have loose stools Everyday? ›
Although common, chronic diarrhea is definitely not normal and is a sign of a problem. When diarrhea occurs frequently for more than two weeks, you might be dealing with a bowel disease. Here are conditions that can cause chronic diarrhea. Ongoing infections from bacteria and parasites.Is it normal to have mushy poop everyday? ›
In most cases, loose stools are a temporary problem and resolve on their own. However, if your symptoms continue to get worse, and you have chronic loose stools, then it's time to see a doctor. See a doctor if you experience: chronic loose stools.What foods firm up stools? ›
Other foods that are included in the BRAT diet include:
- cooked cereal, like Cream of Wheat or farina.
- soda crackers.
- applesauce and apple juice.
Experts generally consider these types to be the most healthy and typical stool forms. Type 5 stools are soft blobs with clear-cut edges that a person can pass easily. Some may also consider this type to be typical in those without bowel issues, while others may suggest it is too loose and may imply diarrhea.Can IBS cause weird poop? ›
IBS Types and Symptoms
IBS with constipation (IBS-C) is usually marked by abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, infrequent bowel movements and hard stools. IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) usually comes with abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, urgency to go, frequent bowel movements and loose, watery stools.
What causes type 6 on the Bristol stool scale? Type six on the Bristol stool scale can be caused by mild diarrhea and a lack of fiber. Usually mild diarrhea will clear up on its own, but if it doesn't appear to get better after a few days, a healthcare provider can help treat the issue.What are 3 signs of constipation? ›
- The inability to have a bowel movement for several days or passing hard, dry stools.
- Abdominal bloating, cramps or pain.
- Decreased appetite.
Parasitic Gut Infections. Parasites like tiny worms can get into your gut and cause thin, stringy BMs or stringy, loose diarrhea. These bugs are also called roundworms. They live in the soil and can get into your food, then live in your gut.
Why does coffee make you poop? ›
Coffee sends a signal to your stomach to release gastrin. This kicks off a wave of contractions in your gut called peristalsis. Peristalsis moves food and liquid through the intestines. For some people, this leads to a trip to the bathroom in just a few minutes.What illnesses can be found in a stool sample? ›
- E. coli.
In forensic science, the identification of feces is very important in a variety of crime investigations. However, no sensitive and simple fecal identification method using molecular biological techniques has been reported.Can a stool sample detect liver problems? ›
In a study of people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and their twins and other close relatives, researchers were able to diagnose liver cirrhosis simply by analyzing a person's stool microbes.Why is my poop always soft and mushy? ›
When there's too much water but not enough fiber in your stool, it causes your poop to become too soft – usually, the fiber in your poop soaks up the water.What your poop tells you about your health? ›
Your bowel habits are a strong indicator of your digestive health. Changes in the color, shape and texture of your stool can reveal signs of infection, digestive issues or more serious health problems, such as cancer.What causes lots of gas and loose stools? ›
Excess gas is often a symptom of chronic intestinal conditions, such as diverticulitis, ulcerative colitis or Crohn's disease. Small bowel bacterial overgrowth. An increase or change in the bacteria in the small intestine can cause excess gas, diarrhea and weight loss.What happens if your stool is too soft? ›
Loose stools after eating can be an indication of food poisoning, lactose intolerance, or infections. You may also have loose stool after eating if you're taking too much magnesium or have been drinking too much coffee. Certain foods, such as spicy or oily foods, can also create loose stools.What does healthy gut poop look like? ›
The color of your stool depends on a couple of things: your diet and how much bile is in it. Bile is a yellow-green fluid that helps digest fats. A healthy stool, then, should reflect a mixture of all the colors of the food you eat and that bile. Almost any shade of brown, or even green, is considered OK.What foods cause mushy poop? ›
- Sugar. Sugars stimulate the gut to put out water and electrolytes, which loosen bowel movements. ...
- Dairy foods. ...
- FODMAPs. ...
- Gluten. ...
- Fried or fatty foods. ...
- Spicy foods. ...
- Caffeine. ...
- Image: 5432action/Getty Images.
What are the long strings in poop? ›
Rope worms are long structures that sometimes occur in the intestines. They are likely a buildup of intestinal mucus and debris and may pass in a person's stool during an enema or other clearing procedure. Some researchers claim that rope worms are parasites, while others believe them to be intestinal debris.What causes foul-smelling gas? ›
Common causes of foul-smelling gas can be a food intolerance, high-fiber foods, certain medications and antibiotics, and constipation. More serious causes are bacteria and infections in the digestive tract or, potentially, colon cancer.What causes foul-smelling diarrhea? ›
Infections that affect the intestines may also cause foul-smelling stools. Gastroenteritis, an inflammation of the stomach and intestines, can occur after eating food contaminated with: bacteria, such as E. coli or Salmonella. viruses.Why am I always gassy? ›
Excessive flatulence can be caused by swallowing more air than usual or eating food that's difficult to digest. It can also be related to an underlying health problem affecting the digestive system, such as recurring indigestion or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).